Day 12 - Wednesday 2nd

A tight launch from one of the hotel lawns. It's not ideal, with the main building down-wind and to one side and trees behind, although they're not thick enough to act as a wind-break. Only three balloons at a time can launch and we're in the first wave. The Belgians are, naturally, first away as they have been every flight, but they have six experienced crew as well as their ground crew and make light work of it. I've laid out Humbug as close to the tree as I dare and still the crownline cannot be more than half-way out before reaching the flower-beds.

Although it's my flight, Norman wants to do the inflation because of the restricted crownline - he wants someone experienced on it. This also goes for the takeoff as well. I'm a bit miffed, but it's his balloon and decent crew accept the pilot's decisions without question. Probably just as well, because he is concentrating on following the Belgians down the street and lifts off warm rather than hot. The basket clouts the roof of a single storey service building and rips off a few tiles and breaks others. There's at least three holes and the ridge end has fallen. A burst of applause from all the other crews who, by and large, appreciate a good crash as long as it happens to someone else.

We fly on the opposite side of the River Kwai to yesterday and although we don't cross the bridge we obtain some good photographs from a few hundred metres away. We cross the river and overfly the second bridge, which I guess may actually be on the site of the original wooden one which was the subject of the film, although the area has been much built up since the war-time photographs were taken. I convince myself that I can just about trace a rough line that could be the old track alignment, but not its connection point with the existing main line. Norman moots wether to do a "splash and dash" in the river, but Richard and I think that now is not the time. The phrase is converted (we've spotted the powerlines over the bridge) to "splash and flash" and the idea is dropped. Once again our pickup is beneath us as we land, despite the lack of radio. The bill for repairs to the roof is given to Norman and totals 1,000 baht.

We leave for Hua Hin on the coast south of Bangkok, stopping to visit the Wat at -. The temple is built on a steep mount and to get to it involves either a climb of 160 steps (I counted them on the way down) or a ride in a cable funicular railcar. No contest, really, in this heat, although as we wander through the unprotected winding room at the top and view the avant garde approach to the control wiring, there are some thoughtful looks. The main tower is highly decorated and has seven storeys of windows rising and tapering to the summit. This is Thai Buddhist architecture and by contrast beside it is the Chinese Buddhist equivalent, smaller but with elegant pagoda roofs rising to form a cylindrical structure. A wall divides the two, so to visit the Chinese one would involve a descent and re-climb. Either would delight the eye, but both are overshadowed by the presence, if not the size, of a colossal statue of Bhudda sheltered by an even larger open-fronted canopy with all the lavish decorative trimmings imaginable. It blazes in the hot winter sunshine and must be visible for miles across the plain. There is an enormous double-ended drum formed from a single hardwood trunk that must be at least 15 feet long with a diameter of some 5 feet. It is suspended horizontally under a canopy and when the heavy leather skin is struck with one of two cloth- bound drumsticks, produces a deep, almost explosive sonorous boom that can clearly be heard in the town below. This prayer drum has a similar function to the Tibetan prayerwheel and all who pass by use it, as do we.

Lunchtime. Now considered sufficiently trained to be let loose in a roadside eatery, we enter and choose our own meals. Most of us are successful in this endeavour, but some of the less confident return perhaps slightly more hungry than they would have liked to be. I've always maintained that language is no barrier to trade - if you're in a restaurant anywhere in the world the chances are that you require feeding. The trading instincts of the proprietors will take care of the rest - after all, that's what they're in business for.

After arrival at the Royal Garden Village some of us take a bus into town. The fare is 45 baht, but someone thinks that means 45 each. This would explain the rapturous welcome from the bus driver when we chance upon him later that night... The attraction is the Night Market and the food sold therein. Just to wander up and down taking in the scents and sounds of cooking is an experience not to be missed. It helps if you are hungry, of course. We compose our meal carefully, crispy chicken here, now a skewer-full of pork, peppers and pineapple freshly cooked over charcoal, a short pause then yes, it has to be the banana and egg pancake with a light dusting of sugar and a drizzle of condensed milk over all. Jerry introduces us to the green mango, sliced in such a way as to enable you to break off petals of fruit and dip them in a brown sugar-and-salt mixture provided. It tastes like a crisp, unripe pear, slightly peppery taste, but a different texture and of course, the sugar/salt mix is a classic rehydration mixture. We rediscover the rice and coconut milk patties that Yutakit introduced to up in the north and decide not to pig-out all in one go - we have three days here and will have to forage for ourselves during the evenings.

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